Was Christmas all about spending money in Scrooge’s time?
In Charles Dickens’ famous novella A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge is a greedy, cheap, miserly businessman who hates Christmas. He resents his clerk’s request to get a day off on the 25th, and he refuses to give money to a charity for the poor. Scrooge declares that Christmas is “a poor excuse for picking a man's pocket.” But why didn’t Scrooge at least see a business case for Christmas? In our time, retail stores rely on Christmas to keep them afloat financially. Pandemic lockdowns were even delayed to keep shops open until December 25th. Scrooge loves money, so why doesn’t he love Christmas?
In Scrooge’s time, the 1830s, presents weren’t a big part of Christmas. Instead, at Christmas, tradespeople came knocking, expecting some sort of bonus for working for so little all year. Servants expected money, usually given on Boxing Day (the bonus was in the box). The wealthy were supposed to show Christian charity at Christmas to those who lived on less, particularly the poorest of society. It was a time to “pick” the pockets of the rich. This is what bothers greedy old Scrooge.
In our time, there is also a huge redistribution of wealth at Christmas, but it is expected to be among people of the same family. Our children are treated as the needy ones now. A parent who refuses to give presents to their own kids would be seen as a Scrooge; but we don’t have to give to charity or to the Amazon delivery people (if we even know who they are). One of the great shifts in Christmas was this turn from a Christian call to help the poor, towards the needs of our own children and family. Perhaps this is why the words of Jacob Marley’s ghost continue to haunt us: “Business? Mankind was my business!” If Scrooge were alive now, he might approve of our Christmas as a business venture—but is that a good thing?
—Rev. Stephen Milton came to Lawrence Park Community Church in Toronto in 2019, after decades of work as a documentary filmmaker. His passion is creating new ways to explore spirituality, appealing to people who aren’t interested in regular Sunday morning church services.
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The views contained within these blogs are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of The United Church of Canada.